How To Build a Model or Structure Scratchbuild a pickle car

Scratchbuild a pickle car

By Rene Schweitzer | June 10, 2024

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Pickle cars have a unique look, and they served a unique purpose. Cucumbers brined onboard in vats as they traveled from farm field to processing plant. I thought a pickle car would look at home on my layout. My version is loosely based on period photos; it’s not a scale model of a specific car.

model pickle car on garden railway
Peckinpah’s Pickle Co. is ready to receive another load of pickles, thanks to this scratchbuilt car. Rob Eaton photo

When I started my Hitchcock Ry., my second garden line, I wanted to create something unique. That meant scratchbuilding as much as possible. I’m confess that I’m not a master craftsman. But that didn’t stop me – and it shouldn’t stop you. Scratchbuilding is fun, requires few tools, and won’t break the bank. The results are continually rewarding.

wood frame
The author uses a scratchbuilt wood frame as the start of his car. Rod Eaton photo

Since all my railcars have the same 24 foot frame, I used a purpose-built jig to make assembly fast and consistent. Lumber is hobby store strip wood – ½” x ½”, ¼” x ½”, and ¼” x 3/8”. I decked the frame with wood craft sticks. Because my cars don’t stay outdoors, I used wood glue for construction.

wood flatcar base plus a cardboard container
The author found that a cardboard liquor container worked perfectly to form the vats. Rod Eaton photo

You’ll need formers to make the brining vats. While pondering the possibilities I noticed the Scotch I was sipping came in a sturdy cardboard tube. A tape measure confirmed it was exactly the right diameter. Some research may be required to find a good former for your pickle car vats. That can be an enjoyable benefit of this project.

There would be room for three vats on my shorty car. Measure, mark, cut. The remaining bottom section of the tube became a unique pencil and brush holder on my workbench.

partially built pickle car
Two vats have been covered with wood coffee stir sticks. Rod Eaton photo

I spaced and glued the vat formers to the car’s deck. I cut cardboard discs to fit inside each former and glued them about a half inch below the rim. I drew vertical lines on the outside of the formers, then glued wood coffee stirring sticks around the perimeter. I stuck a length of duct tape to a piece of glass and painted it rusty brown. Then I sliced narrow strips from the tape to make vat bands.

partially built pickle car
Cake decorating sprinkles, covered with paint, make believable pickles. Rod Eaton photo

What could become large-scale pickles? While grocery shopping, I spotted a small bottle of cake decorating sprinkles. Spread over a puddle of glue and given a coat of bilious green paint, the pickles easily pass the “10 foot rule.” A coat of clear gloss paint gives the appearance of wetness.

end of model pickle car
The author built roof supports from hobby lumber and painted them green. The project needs four support pieces. Rod Eaton photo
model pickle car with extra roof piece
Two of the roof hatches are in the open position, so visitors can peek at the pickle load. Rod Eaton photo

The rest of the construction goes quickly. I added roof supports on each end of the car and in between the vats and placed small wooden dowels as ladders. I etched boards into sections of wood sheet for the roof. I cut holes and created vat hatches from the lumber; two on each side were left in the open position to show off the pickles. Couplers, a handful of detail parts, and trucks complete the car.

My pickle car always attracts attention on the Hitchcock Ry. Children especially like to peek into the open hatches to see what might lie hidden within.

In prototypical use, workers dumped wheelbarrows of pickles into the vats. One account I found said the vats were siphoned at the processing plant. Any pickles remaining in the emptied vats were netted out. Modeling cucumber loading or a processing plant would provide lots of interest on a garden railway. My pickle car only suggests the existence of an industry located somewhere off the layout. Peckinpah’s Pickles — Pick a Peck of Peckinpah’s.

Learn more: Read an article about making an HO scale car from the November 1956 issue of Model Railroader.

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